Prevalence and Correlates of Binge Eating in Adolescence

Epidemiologic Studies
A number of large studies, including school and community adolescent samples using survey measures, have reported high rates of binge eating in the absence of full-syndrome BED, ranging from approximately 6% to almost 40%  (Croll,  Neumark-Sztainer,  Story,  &  Ireland,  2002;  French et al., 1997; Greenfeld, Quinlan, Harding, Glass, & Bliss, 1987; Johnson, Rohan, & Kirk, 2002; Neumark-Sztainer, Story, Resnick, & Blum, 1997).

Although several studies have reported few or no differences between girls and boys or among racial and ethnic groups, Croll and colleagues found females to be twice as likely as males to report binge eating (25.6% versus 12.5%), with binge eating most common among Hispanic females (Croll et al., 2002). The former finding was supported by a survey of nontreatment-seeking 13- to 19-year-olds in which 45% of females and 16% of males reported binge eating (Greenfeld et al.).

By contrast, Field and colleagues found no significant gender difference with regard to the prevalence of binge eating but did find Hispanic boys twice as likely as white boys to report binge eating (Field, Colditz, & Peterson, 1997b). Using a questionnaire to assess binge eating in African American and white male and female teenagers, Johnson et al. (2002) found that binge eating was most commonly reported by African American males.

However, in two multiracial cohorts of adolescent females, substantial differences in binge eating based on ethnicity or race were not detected (Field, Colditz, & Peterson, 1997a; French et al.).

Studies specifically examining the prevalence of full-syndrome BED in non-treatment-seeking teenagers report that few meet criteria for full-syndrome BED (Johnson, Kirk, & Reed, 2001; Stice & Agras, 1998). Making use of interview methodology, Stice and Agras found that only 4% report binge eating.

The prevalence of binge eating has also been studied in relation to sexual orientation.  French and colleagues found a relationship between sexual orientation and binge eating; male homosexual and female heterosexual adolescents were more likely to report binge eating than heterosexual males and homosexual females,  respectively (French,  Story,  Remafedi, Resnick, & Blum, 1996). In another study examining sexual orientation, Austin et al. (2004) replicated these findings in males and also reported that compared with heterosexual females,  “mostly heterosexual”  girls (individuals who defined themselves as neither heterosexual nor bisexual but somewhere in between) were more likely to binge eat.


Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda, MD 20892.
This research was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, grant ZO1-HD-00641 (NICHD, NIH) to Dr. J. Yanovski.

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